People want meaningful experiences when they travel; American Express Travel even did a study that proves it. Travelers are hungry to dive deep into a country instead of flittering across its surface. They want cultural immersion.
This blog post is the final in a series of how I think you can have more authentic experiences when you travel and return home with memories that have filled your heart, not just your camera.
Here are my final tips on how to…
Live Like A Local
Dress Like The Locals – I could have also subtitled this, Fake it till you make it! If you want to feel like a local, you better look like one. Research the standards of dress for your destination. For example, outside of the U.S., shorts are considered beachwear. When you wear shorts and polo shirts with logos, you look like a tourist; tourists carry money and expensive electronic devices. Pack unbranded shirts, long pants and/or skirts. This is really a safety tip rather than a fashion tip.
When dressing like the locals you show respect for their culture. If you’ll be visiting churches, wear a long sleeve top or bring a scarf to cover your shoulders. Years ago, I made the mistake of wearing a sundress in Jakarta. As I walked down the street, I felt a bit exposed. I returned to my hotel room and grabbed a sweater. This article will advise you about how to dress like a local in Spain: Euro Cheapo Madrid
Home Exchange – There’s nothing like strolling through an outdoor market in the quiet of the morning and collecting fresh eggs, vine-ripened tomatoes, handcrafted cheese and crusty bread, then carrying home your cache, cooking it and enjoying a homemade breakfast on your patio.
How can you do this on vacation? Home exchange.
My family has swapped our home 13 times in 12 years. Not only do you get kitchens, but bedrooms, living rooms and yes, bathrooms too! Once you join a home exchange agency and pay the annual fee, about $100, you can schedule as many home swaps as you can handle. Your exchange partner may live across the country or across the world; you live in their home while they live in yours. You can even exchange cars and save on car rental expenses!
Volunteer – VolunTourism, as it’s sometimes called, is when travelers take a service-based vacation. If volunteer work makes your heart sing, this is the perfect way to immerse yourself in a country. You can join local causes and help save sea otters, build homes or teach children. Not only will you meet locals, but you’ll also be making a difference in their lives.
I know nothing about construction work but one weekend my husband and I helped pave sidewalks for an elementary school in Tijuana, Escuela Secundaria General No. 17. At lunchtime the volunteers sat at little school desks while four Mexican moms served us a tasty homemade meal. I’ll always remember their kind faces. About.com has a great voluntourism article with list of resources to help get you started: About.com Adventure TravelSit In A Park – Next time you’re traveling, notice the people sitting in parks. They’re usually locals. They talk. They laugh. They relax. They understand the quote, “Sometimes I sits and thinks, and sometimes I just sits.”
Put down your itinerary. Turn off your phone. And sit. Let your city, your beach, your vacation location swirl around you. In the hustle-bustle of travel, sitting may be one of your most important activities.
A woman from Finland told me that her home swap partners from France “loved the peace and quiet of our area and the fact that nothing happened!”
Now that sounds like a real vacation.
I hope my blog series of tips will help you live like a local and really experience your next vacation destination. Remember, experiential travel is not about escaping, it’s about arriving.
Comment below and let me know your ideas about how you live like a local when you travel. If you like this blog post, please share it on Facebook or Tweet it to your friends. Thanks!